Writing about Writing

As I gradually wade into the waters of the writing life, each step becomes less timid and more confident than the last. I look back at those few baby steps behind me, barely making an imprint in the sand, and I wonder–now that I’m ankle-deep—-if the arm floats I’m wearing will turn into iron shackles when I submerge myself further. I see a raft in the distance, beckoning me with its promises. When you’re ready to discard the last of your computer software chains, I imagine it saying, I’ll be here, waiting for you to embark on a ride through uncharted waters. But I won’t let you fall.  

I’ve recently discovered that my writing goes more smoothly when I have several projects going simultaneously. If only I had learned that years ago! Here’s what I have in the works:

I completed the first draft of my first novel, The Cornflake Girl (still a tentative title for reasons I’ll explain), in May 2012. The second draft was completed three months later. Only then, in my backwards way of doing things, did I begin studying the craft of writing and the business of publishing. I quickly learned that my novel breaks all kinds of rules. There are three protagonists, one of whose likeability is questionable, and there is no tangible antagonist. There are parts of the story that I think are well-written and thoughtful but don’t necessarily move the story along. The title character is only one of the protagonists and for the first one-third of the book, she is only seen by another character, rather than being part of the action. It’s about so many different things that I’ve had a hard time explaining to people what it’s about. So it definitely needs an overhaul. All of these facets, combined with a common piece of writing advice, add up to my decision to shelve it – for now. The aforementioned advice, which I’ve read from several accomplished authors, is that if your first novel breaks a lot of rules, you should consider not submitting it for publication until you have some credits under your belt.

I began my second novel, Peer through Time, in June 2012. It’s a sequel to the first book so it shares the same predicament, but I’m early enough in the process that it should be salvageable. I’ve learned that it’s not unheard of for the second book in a series to be released prior to its prequel. This story is about a woman who grew up during the latter part of the 21st century and is sent back in time to the early 20th century where she must learn to live without all the technology she’s come to rely on. Meanwhile, back in her own time – the future – acquaintances of her adoptive mother are dying from what appear to be mysterious freak accidents. It’s all connected but I’m still working out the details.

In an effort to get some necessary publishing credits on my resume, I’ve taken the advice of my favorite science fiction author, Robert J. Sawyer, and started submitting short stories to magazines. The first one is titled Inauguration of the Hillbot, written during September and October 2012. It’s a near-future tale about a new mode of urban transportation that might endanger its passengers due to faulty testing procedures. It features a minor character from my novels-in-progress, who has a secret about this standalone event that takes place between books 1 and 2. I’ve submitted it to some magazines and I am currently waiting out the average response time, which is five weeks to three months. I know to expect rejection and will continue to submit to other publications.

My second short story was begun in late October 2012. Loneliness in the Late 21st Century examines whether technological advances that keep us connected to each other will evolve so much that loneliness is eradicated, becoming a notion from the past. Inspiration can come from unlikely sources: I was reading a thriller that had little to do with anything I was writing, but one sentence about someone being lonely sparked the idea. I’ve always written in the past tense and have been irked by stories written in the present tense: ‘he says’ instead of ‘he said.’ But it’s a grievance without rationale, so I’m challenging myself to write this one in the present tense. It’s working and I’m less bothered by it now.

Another short-story idea is tumbling around in my head; this one has to do with memory loss. As a society, we are already storing information in computers (or the cloud) that we formerly stored in our heads: phone numbers, for instance. As technology advances to the point where we can back up our memories, perhaps it won’t be a pill that solves Alzheimer’s disease and other types of memory loss. Maybe it will resolve itself as a by-product of the technology we’re developing for other reasons.

Then there’s my blog: the one you’re reading. An author’s blog ideally has a central theme. In my “weblog for miscellaneous thoughts,” each topic is different from the previous one. Another rule-breaker. But this is not my author blog, which doesn’t yet exist; it’s just my first attempt at an outlet for some writings that don’t have a home elsewhere. My mildly rebellious literary nature might be the very thing that prevents my initial success—-but might later prove valuable for its non-typicality. I can hope.

Many times I’ve been very close to giving up and relegating this dream to the archives along with so many other roads started but ultimately not taken: architecture; gymnastics; and computer programming, to name a few. But one of the most common pieces of author advice I’ve come across is this, or its many variations: Don’t give up. Keep going. The only way to guarantee your failure is to give up. It’s true: I guaranteed my failure in those other endeavors by not following through with them, continually dropping one interest in pursuit of another.

I take one more step into the water and my fear of drowning decreases just a little bit. The raft is waiting. Where it will take me, I have no idea. I don’t even know with certainty that I’ll reach it. Perhaps it looks sturdy but is really just a cheap, thin rectangle of plastic from the dollar store, its promises nothing more than imaginary. But I won’t know until I take several more steps; until the ground beneath me retreats and I risk sinking while envisioning the potential rewards brought forth by swimming.

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4 Comments

  1. David, as always, I am impressed by the thoughtfulness of your writing – so much that I’m typing this on my crappy cell phone. You always seem so very self aware and that’s something many, if not most, people lack. I admire this. I have four or five close friends that are writers – some published on Amazon, some self published in paperback, several bloggers and still others that have agents. You are correct about sticking with it. I believe your journey in the traditional ways to publication are going to work well for you. Your greatest asset is that you are a realist about rejection and eventual publication. I believe wholeheartedly that you will be published. I am anxious to read your work. I’m also excited for the day I find myself standing in line at your book signing while telling those around me, “I knew him when…”

    May I share your blog with my friends?

    One tip you might be able to use– several of my friends are in writer’s groups that have members ranging from beginners to very well known authors. They critique each other’s work and share experience in the art of swimming – to use your metaphor.

    Keep up the good work and let me know when I can read more of it!

  2. Please continue to grow your courage. Step into that water, ease onto that raft. You are getting braver, but you’re also getting better and better at putting words and thoughts together. Good article, this!

  3. Okay, I’m going to do my best to remember everything I said before and hopefully it will “take” this time. I was on my cell phone and laboriously typed out a longish message…

    As you know, David, I am a fan of your writing. You are so thoughtful when you write – so self aware. That’s something that many, if not most, people are not – self aware. I admire you and those friends of mine that are writers because if it’s not “stream of consciousness” then it is labor intensive for me. Though I must say, the first time I commented on this post was pretty well written.

    I am anxious to read anything you’ve written. I admire the fact that you’re journey to publishing your work is being done in the way of so many authors before you did it. I have quite a few friends that are writers. Some are self-published in paperback, others are Amazon/e-book authors (two ghost writers) and still others are published authors. Through a couple of these people, I’ve been exposed to some more well-known authors and some not so well known. I’ve purchased lots of first attempts via Amazon (some free, some cheap). What I can tell you is that you’re writing is more solid than you imagine. I’ve read some really stinko books!

    A couple of tips that the more well known authors would share: If you have a writer’s guild or writer’s group available to you, join. The group my poet friend is in (she’s in a local group and a state group) meets regularly. They each get 5 minutes or so to read part of what they’re working on and are critiqued by the other writers in the group. They tend to help each other stay on track. They help with many of the issues you’ve mentioned in your post. The best thing is that while there are more beginners than not, there are well known, often published writers in the group as well. There are poets, fictional writers, non-fiction and anything you can think of. Maybe something like this would help you?

    Funny story about that group… Tim Dorsey was doing a book signing recently and one of the ladies in the group waiting until everyone else was gone and thrust her manuscript on the poor man. Then “stalked” him in the parking lot… not really stalked, but… You’d like my friend Ferne, poet, writer, funny, funny lady! Some day I’ll send you her poem about this incident.

    I’m really looking forward to the day I find myself standing in a line to get you to sign my copy of your book and telling everyone around, “you should have known him back when…”

    So to borrow your own metaphor – keep swimming, David! You’re stronger than you realize and getting better all the time. Please let me know when I can read the stories you’re submitting. I’m positively drooling for it!

    Barbara

  4. i’m with you., i encourage you and i love to see you follow the light that is driving you to write. much love, – siri

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